So what are we observing every February 2? Groundhog Day actually began in Pennsylvania in the 18th century when the Pennsylvania Germans celebrated an ancient European tradition wherein a badger predicted the weather. If the badger, then in later years a groundhog, sees his shadow, meaning the sun is shining, we are in for six more weeks of winter. If he doesn’t see his shadow or it is overcast, winter is over.
February 2 was selected as it’s the mid-point between the winter solstice and the spring equinox. On December 21, the winter solstice, the sun has rolled as far south as possible on the winter horizon and the days gradually lengthen. By February 2, the sun has moved completely through its winter cycle and we are half way to the spring equinox, the mid-point of the next season. Regardless of what the groundhog predicts on February 2, the official first day of spring is almost seven weeks away.
The groundhog, also known as a woodchuck or whistle-pig (because its voice is a shrill whistle), was probably selected as the official weather-predictor as it hibernates in October and usually wanders out of hibernation in February.
A rodent of the family Sciuridae, groundhogs belong to the group of large ground squirrels known as marmots. A lowland creature spending time in open woods and brushy, rocky ravines, the groundhog is found in northeastern and central United States and Canada. However, they can be found as far north as Alaska, with their habitat extending southeast to Georgia.
So is the fuzzy rodent really necessary to the forecast? When you get right down to it, either the sun is not shining and winter is over, or it is shining and six more weeks of winter remain. Well no, the groundhog is essentially unnecessary. However, I for one, appreciate a world with a little whimsy and the occasional weather forecasting groundhog.
And remember, the groundhog on his worst day, predicts only six more weeks of winter. The groundhog, shadow or not, marks the end of winter and the beginning of spring.